Mount Saint Helens

Leaving the hotel behind before 7 AM on Tuesday, June 18th of 2019, we made a first stop at Voodoo Doughnut downtown. The wait wasn’t long and we had a delicious, albeit unhealthy, breakfast to start our day.

From downtown Portland we headed North on Interstate 5, traveling to the exit just beyond Castle Rock, WA. Our first destination of the day was the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the opposite end of the Spirit Lake Highway. Stopping at various points along the route, we enjoyed the scenery, the highest elevations obscured by low cloud cover.

As one gets closer to the destination, the trees take on an almost digital appearance, something that’s difficult to adequately describe. The dense forests of mountain pine look sort of like trees in Minecraft, but more faithfully rendered. It’s an interesting thing, to say the least.

Photos from the trip East along Spirit Lake Highway are above.

It was 10 AM when we finally reached our destination. Upon arrival, I ventured off on my own, along the trail leading in the direction of Spirit Lake. The blasted volcano cone was still far too well-hidden behind cloud cover for me to get any worthwhile shots of Saint Helens itself, so I wandered for a couple of miles, hoping to capture some other stunning scenery.

I only started back, to meet up at the observatory when the morning clouds began burning away as the sun warmed the air.

Photos from that interval of hiking are below.

I was able to enjoy her apex being disrobed as the clouds dissipated, revealing her snow covered higher elevations near the cone. The return hike to the observatory was positively beautiful. We took a moment to stop at the Loowit Viewpoint on our way West, back along Spirit Lake Highway.

Photos as Saint Helens emerged from the clouds are below.

Returning to Interstate 5, we returned South, taking the exit at Woodland to follow the Lewis River Road Eastward. Our next stop was a good distance away and we didn’t arrive at Ape Cave until just before 3 PM. Lacking adequate light sources, our travel down the lava tube was trimmed down and my ability to take photos was limited to near the entrance. I’ve included a couple of those below.

Leaving Ape Cave, we decided to continue Northeast, hoping to find some captivating vistas approaching Muddy River and the Lava Canyon Trailhead. We were not disappointed. Approximately an hour after departing from Ape Cave, we experienced some positively stunning scenery.

The photos from that interval are below.

We returned to our hotel room in Portland roughly 11 hours after we’d started out that morning. It had been a long day, but an absolutely worthwhile one. It’s never a disappointment to experience the beauty emerging from devastation like that.

We’d previously visited Mt. Saint Helens in June of 2017, and I had been there in June of 2014 as well. When I was growing up, my mother had a glass jar filled with ash from the eruption that took place only a year and a half after I’d been born. That ash that had found its way as far as South Dakota and Minnesota fascinated me when I was young…and the volcano itself grew to fascinate me as I became an adult.

Second Leg of the Journey

We left Helena, MT shortly after 7 AM on Sunday, June 16th of 2019. Our route took us West to meet Interstate 90 at the Garrison exit. The last time we’d taken this path out of Helena, in June of 2017, we’d narrowly avoided colliding with a doe as she’d ventured onto the highway from thick shrub growth on the right side of the road. This time, thankfully, there were no near misses.

We remained on I-90 for only a short while, taking the exit at Drummond as that was the recommendation of my GPS. I should have learned not to trust the GPS after a particularly awful set of directions in August of 2016, but shame on me because I was fooled twice. We started out on a simple frontage road running parallel with the interstate before connecting with a meandering gravel road. It wasn’t in perfect condition, but I’d taken my 2001 Chevy Impala down worse roads, for sure.

What initially appeared to be a rough patch of road, perhaps still rutted after late winter in the higher elevations, soon became only a taste of what was to come. If I’d been driving a Jeep, I’d have avoided this road if given the opportunity to do so. It kept getting worse rather than better, large stones protruding from the road’s surface (if one could really call it a road) at random points while giant ruts carved miniature ravines through the hard-packed dirt that made up the islands of discernible road.

Unfortunately, there was no choice but to continue forward. Attempting to reverse down the trail would have certainly led to disaster, while powering through the god awful, stressful ordeal was at least potentially going to lead us to a happy outcome.

The road cleared up just as we approached our destination. Garnet, a ghost town maintained by the Department of the Interior, was just ahead. We’d made it…and without tearing anything from the undercarriage of my car.

To add insult to injury, there was a much nicer, well-maintained gravel road up there as well. There had been a far less treacherous path to this destination. We could have avoided the hazards associated with taking my car up something barely suitable for four-wheel drive. Damn the GPS.

We remained there in Garnet for about an hour and a half, not departing until around 11 AM. Photos from our time in Garnet are featured above.

The route we followed leaving Garnet and making our way to Missoula, where we rejoined Interstate 90 was far less stressful than the one we’d experienced only a couple of hours earlier. Along the way, there was a fantastic view and a great place to stop and take it all in. I’ve included photos of that vista below.

Crossing the rest of the distance through Montana and the upper panhandle of Idaho, we entered Washington. At the recommendation from my cousin, Jeremy, we stopped at Viking Drive-Inn. This is a modest diner located Southwest of Spokane, in a small town known as Sprague. The burgers, while simple, were deliciously seasoned and precisely what we were hungry for at just after 2 PM.

We continued following I-90 until we reached Ritzville, WA, where we headed South, making our way to Palouse Falls State Park. We’d seen photos of the magnificent falls, but we’d never seen it in person. It did not disappoint.

Photos of Palouse Falls follow.

We left Palouse Falls at approximately 4:30 PM before continuing Southwest through Kennewick before crossing the border into Oregon. We connected with Interstate 84 and continued on to Portland, OR. We arrived at our hotel shortly before 9 PM.

Having built up an appetite again, we went to the nearest MOD Pizza. We’d fallen in love with that design-your-own pizza chain when we’d been in Seattle in June of 2017. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at a particularly seedy 7-Eleven, in what appeared to be a fairly run down area of Portland. Regardless of that, we continued returning to this same 7-Eleven during our week-long stay in Portland because they happened to have green apple Jones Soda in their fountain soda machine. It tastes even better as a fountain soda than in the bottles.

We settled back in at the hotel just before 10 PM.

Sunset At Cape Flattery

I’d first learned of picturesque Cape Flattery–the Northwestern most point of the lower 48 states–from my friend Charles, while he was visiting the Black Hills during the summer of 2016. I wasn’t able to visit the location for myself until the following summer, and I immediately fell in love.

We returned to the Pacific Northwest in June of 2019.

On Tuesday, June 25th we left Port Angeles and headed West shortly before 6 PM. The drive along the Northern edge of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a lovely drive, but a long one. It wasn’t until shortly after 8 PM that we arrived at the trailhead to begin the short trek to Cape Flattery.

We arrived in time to enjoy the scenery before we lost the light. The photos above were taken as we initially settled in to await the coming sunset.

Other groups of people came and went, most returning to where they’d parked at the trailhead before darkness descended upon the forest. We stuck it out until we’d been embraced by full dark. We’d carried high-power flashlights with us in anticipation of making our way back to our parked vehicle after nightfall.

The sky ignited with an absolutely beautiful sunset just beyond the not-so-distant island and the lighthouse located there. Photos I’d taken as the sunset lit up the sky are below. It was almost as beautiful when we were no longer able to see anything without a light source. The sound of waves crashing against the cliff face and stone far below us was peaceful and relaxing.

We began the return trip to Port Angeles shortly before 10 PM, and we returned to our hotel room around Midnight.

Sunrise In Yellowstone

The darkness of newly fallen night greeted us as we entered Yellowstone National Park on Saturday, June 29th of 2019. It had been a long drive from Seattle, WA to West Yellowstone, MT and we’d only just entered the park around 10 PM. We’d traveled approximately 800 miles over twelve hours to arrive at the Roaring Mountain parking area before I attempted to join my passengers in slumber.

My 6’3″ height does not acclimate itself well to sleeping behind the wheel of a 2001 Chevy Impala, a fact I’d discovered during our previous trip to the Pacific Northwest when I attempted to sleep in the same position at a rest area just outside of Boise, ID in July of 2017. During the previous trip, the goal was to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument around sunrise, before completing the journey home to the Black Hills of South Dakota. This time, it was to visit Mammoth Hot Springs to witness the sunrise from that already magnificently beautiful location.

Needless to say, I did not sleep well…or long. I was on the road again at approximately 3:30 AM and we arrived at the lower terrace parking area around 4 AM.

We spent the next couple of hours there, and as the first faint hints of dawn emerged behind the mountains to the East, I knew my lack of sleep had been entirely worthwhile. The photos above should serve as testament to the sacrifice being justified.

Returning to the car, we continued through Yellowstone, driving into the Lamar Valley and then reversing course to travel South through the Hayden Valley region so as to exit Yellowstone via the East entrance, returning home via Cody, WY and Highway 14 through the Bighorn Mountains.

Along the way, there were bears. We tend to get lucky during our time in Yellowstone where wildlife is concerned. This trip was no exception. Walking the fine line between maintaining a safe distance and getting close enough for worthwhile shots of the beautiful creatures was as much a challenge for me as it ever is, but I’m not one of those people who can remain safely in my vehicle when taking small risks can produce better results. The photos below are the result of my lack of caution, so you can decide whether it was worthwhile or not.

Another seven and a half hours later, after driving the remaining 430 or so miles, we returned home shortly after 5 PM, after being away for 16 days.

We had intended to spend a few days in Yellowstone National Park followed by another few days in Glacier National Park during June of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic made that objective disappear. There will be no vacation for us this summer either, as I’ve changed jobs and, in the process, sacrificed the weeks of annual vacation time I’d earned with my tenure at the previous place of employment.